Harassing the President

Getting back to work.

Today, Donald Trump may have surpassed all of his previous efforts to file nonsensical lawsuits. Today, he filed a complaint seeking to block the House Ways and Means Committee from examining his New York tax returns.

By way of background, New York has passed the so-called TRUST Act which “directs the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to grant the [House Ways and Means] Committee’s request for the President’s state tax returns if the Committee has already requested the President’s federal returns from Treasury. ” It offers only two bases for relief.

In Count I of the Complaint, Trump claims a violation of Article I of the Constitution and the House Rules. Admittedly, I’m merely a poor, but honest, tax lawyer, not a Constitutional scholar. But the complaint is brought by Trump in “his capacity as a private citizen,” not in his official capacity as president. I simply cannot see how a private citizen has the standing to assert violations of either Article I or the House Rules.

In Count II, Trump alleges “Retaliation and Discrimination In Violation of the First Amendment,” claiming that the Act “was enacted to retaliate against the President because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016
campaign.” The baselessness of this claim is shown by the text of the complaint itself where Trump consistently refers to himself as “the President.” That is, unwittingly, Trump’s lawyers make it clear that the intended subject of any Committee investigation is Trump the president, not Trump the individual.

Finally, there is a question as to whether at this point there is even a case or controversy. The Act is only effectuated if (i) the Committee requests Trump’s income tax returns and (ii) has previously requested the returns from the Treasury. The Committee has, of course, previously requested the returns from the Treasury. However, not only has the Committee not only not requested the New York returns, but Committee Chair Neal has disclosed that House counsel has expressed legitimate concerns about requesting Trump’s state returns. Admittedly, Neal has requested that House counsel review his previously expressed position, but “Chairman Neal did not specify when this review will end.” Complaint ¶ 66, at 22.

Even if counsel gives Neal the green light, there is still a question as to whether Neal will request the New York returns. In other words, Trump’s perceived harm is, at this point, speculative at best.

4 thoughts on “Harassing the President”

    1. I think if the votes would be there to release Trump’s tax returns, they’d probably also be there to require the release of his returns as a condition of getting on the ballot in New York. I think the state would be on much stronger legally. Although, obviously, the Supreme Court is never going to allow to see Trump’s tax returns or force him to disclose who is giving him and his family money. But this approach would make it more difficult for them to conceal their partisan and corrupt motives.

  1. Is there a good reason why New York did not just direct the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to publish Trump’s tax return on the web? Given the House Democrats’ slowness in seeking Trump’s federal tax return, I don’t have confidence that they will take effective advantage of the New York law.

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